Gregory I

(c. 540–604)
   Pope 590–604. Gregory had enormous authority, and the twenty-eight of his extant letters that deal with the Jews exercised a lasting influence on the policy of subsequent popes. Though a doughty warrior against all kinds of paganism and Christian heresies, Gregory held firmly to the principle of Roman law that Judaism was a ‘permitted religion’, and to the belief of St AUGUSTINE that the Jews had their part to play in the divine working-out of history.
   On frequent occasions he had to rebuke bishops for seizing synagogues or forcing Jews to be baptized. ‘It is with sweetness and kindliness,’ he said, ‘by means of warning and suasion, that one must gather into the unity of the Faith those who are in disagreement with the Christian religion.’ He urged the bishop of Naples to demonstrate their ‘errors’ to the Jews through their own books, i.e. the Old Testament; recourse to books in which they did not believe was not the way to convince them of the truth of Christianity. Yet while he was averse to force, Gregory believed in offering material temptation to prospective converts; for example, to poor Jewish farmers in Sicily he offered a reduction in taxes in return for baptism. Such converts might not be sincere but their children would be won for the Church. Together with his insistence on fair and sensible conduct towards the Jews, Gregory was firmly opposed to any Church practices that contained a hint of Jewish practices. He also upheld restrictions on contacts between Jews and Christians, such as using Jewish physicians, or ownership of Christian slaves by Jews.
   Gregory’s theological view of Judaism had little of the tolerance and fairness he tried to maintain towards contemporary Jews. He followed the traditional strictures against the faith that had rejected JESUS, and conformed to the pattern of re-interpreting the Old Testament in allegorical terms, to vindicate Christianity as the only true religion. He was exasperated by Jewish ‘stubbornness’ in sticking to the literal meaning of the Scriptures, and thus being led into heresy. It was these strictures that the Christian populace were to hear from the pulpit, and to absorb as the attitude of this most revered of popes.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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